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988: National Suicide Prevention Hotline To Have A New Number

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Suicide rates in the U.S. have been climbing. It is now the 10th leading cause of death. Today is the last day of Suicide Prevention Month, and one effort to make it easier for people to get help will soon be a reality. Instead of the current 10-digit suicide hotline, the phone number will be 988. Congress finally passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act last week. And once President Trump signs it, it will be implemented by the summer of 2022. To talk more about this new number, we're joined by Sam Brinton, their vice president of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.

Welcome.

SAM BRINTON: Thanks so much for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You've been working closely with the FCC on this act. Why was it so difficult to get it done?

BRINTON: It's been a little bit difficult because people don't want to talk about death or suicide. But we all need to. The CDC told us that in June, 1 in 4 young adults seriously considered suicide. At The Trevor Project, we know that 40% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide this year. So whether we talk about it or not, it's happening, and we need to have a solution of a national lifeline that's easy to remember. And that's finally what we're going to have here in the coming years.

SHAPIRO: What do you think the change will be once this shift happens and the new three-digit number - 988 - replaces the current suicide hotline, which is 1-800-273-TALK?

BRINTON: I think the biggest change is going to be a limitation on the amount of stigma that occurs. I'm a person who called the national lifeline in college. I believe that we deserve services when we are having suicidal ideation that match our needs. And when I am in crisis, it's really hard for me to remember a longer number. But 988 is going to be simple because it's going to remind us of 911. And just like we may call 911 to help a neighbor who may be having a heart attack or if we see a car accident, if we are having a mental crisis or our friends or our loved ones are, we'll know who to call.

SHAPIRO: If this shift does lead to more people using the hotline, what kinds of resources are crisis centers going to need to handle that growth?

BRINTON: It's a really important question to remember. Right now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is not funded well enough. So although there are hundreds of centers that are currently listening to these calls, there are hundreds more which are willing to pick up the mantle if they would have the resources to be able to make this connection. It's also about the services that will be provided. So 988 and this legislation says that you have to provide specialized services for high-risk populations. One of those populations is LGBTQ youth. We need to make sure that whether it be through training or through transfers to services like The Trevor Project, you'll be able to get the help that you need, understanding your specific circumstances.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying somebody might dial this number and reach a person who says, let me transfer you to somebody who is better equipped to handle your specific needs, given who you are and where you're coming from.

BRINTON: Exactly. It's their power to be able to say, I need someone who understands myself as a trans individual in this moment of crisis. Can you help me find that resource? - which is why it is so kind of shocking and wonderful to me that it passed unanimously. We have never had an LGBTQ-inclusive bill pass Congress unanimously, and that is kind of what reminds me that this was worth all this work. Everyone understands that lives can be saved when someone is ready to listen. And everyone understood that the person listening may need a little bit more specialized services when it comes to this work.

SHAPIRO: Sam Brinton of The Trevor Project, thank you for talking with us.

BRINTON: Thank you so much for the conversation.

SHAPIRO: And if you or someone you know may be considering suicide, the current hotline number is still 1-800-273-TALK. That is 1-800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.